A Letter To My Sister: The Magic In Reading

My little sis and I at one of our colourful Caribbean family dos.
My little sis and I at one of our colourful Caribbean family dos.

Although she is 12 years my junior, my sister is one of my heroines. Recently diagnosed with  asthma, scoliosis and turner syndrome, this young superhero continues to remain optimistic and upholds a zeal for life that some adults would find a challenge if they had her struggles.

This is the moment where Rhyanne faces her claustrophobia and takes an MRI scan.
This is the moment where Rhyanne faces her claustrophobia and takes an MRI scan.

Rhyanne loves to dance, play piano and like most teens, she loves to watch (a little too much…in my hypocritical opinion) TV and chill with friends. She is a charismatic, open minded girl who is happy to dip her toes in many activities…c’ept reading.

My parents and I have tried a plethora of things to persuade her to open a book – from book clubs, to scouting for books written for young girls her age, to mini-bribes (for every half an hour you dedicate to reading, you can add an extra 10 minutes to TV time), etc. After a few arguments, huffs and puffs, she may read a page or two, while we sit there, drained, but semi-satisfied at our small victory.

Recent events have led to us bouncing back and forth between home and hospital like ping-pong balls, and furthermore, Rhyanne’s pain has been the consequence for her missing out on most of this academic year thus far. Whilst we work towards developing a curriculum for her – one that suits Rhyanne’s needs and will allow her to continue to learn when she is outside the classroom, we often make attempts to have her stimulate the mind through reading, and woy – It is a battle and a half!

She's not been able to attend school as much as she'd like, but when Rhyanne's there, she loves it, and it loves her!
She’s not been able to attend school as much as she’d like, but when Rhyanne’s there, she loves it, and it loves her!

This week, in a final (but probably not final) attempt to have my sister consider the magic in reading, I assembled a little care package and greeted her with it when she was being discharged from the hospital. In addition to the nail polishes, DVD’s, grapes, chocolates and ‘Get Well Soon’ card, I buried a letter in this insanely-pink-and-glittery-treasure-trove which had a little writing kit attached. Below is a copy of said letter:

Hey Sis,

Let’s face it, although reading is important, if you’re not given a book that works for you, it can be insanely boring! Reading and writing are not punishments. In fact, they can be one of the best things in the world if you allow them to be.

One way in which you can make literacy work for you, is by taking creative control! Think about the things that make you happy. What sparks your interests? What makes you laugh? What sort of conversations grip you? How do you like to learn? How do you retain information? What sort of qualities do you look for in a friend? What sort of writing styles do you like? (Most people write the way they speak and are drawn to reading literature which reflects how they talk, listen and experience life).

If you can take the time to answer these questions, you’ve made a great first step because soon after, you’ll be able to establish what kind of literature you’re looking for.

Literature is everywhere! Of course, reading traditional books is a wonderful thing, but reading blogs and magazines can also be cool. Not all teen girl magazines and blogs are plastered with skinny blonde haired, blue eyed girls in the latest gear, and agony aunt letters of complaint about the BF…and One Direction posters (shivers)! A lot of young girls your age (myself included) had or have the same issues with reading, so they’ve launched their own blogs and online magazines, and written about things they want to read. Google some of them, subscribe and even get involved with their mission – submit blogs, leave comments, share with others, etc.

In addition to the sweets and make up treats in your kit, I’ve thrown in a magazine. Not just any magazine, but one that’ll allow to to become the writer as well as the reader. Jacqueline Wilson was one of my favourite authors when I was your age, and maybe, just maybe, she’ll make it into your top 10 too. Have a flick through the mag, have fun with the activities, and then do the following:

Recreate this magazine so it becomes your ideal piece of literature… If you were the journalist, the author, the designer, etc, what would you change, what would remain the same and why? 

Draft at least three articles based on your idea. Draw pictures, take photos and give your magazine a name. I understand you don’t have the money to produce thousands if prints, but there’s no reason why you can’t add this work to your blog?

Don’t forget, I’m here to help, I’m here to support, and above all, I’m here to love. You’re so blessed sis! There are thousands if girls around the world who would love to have an education and would die for a chance to have access to the same reading materials that we can. Let’s not take this for granted.

Let’s read and write, not because it’s a punishment, but because it’s a privilege…because it opens our minds, strengthens our hearts and nourishes our souls…because our stories ensure that our imaginations become an integral part of our legacy, and if our stories become our legacy, we live forever.

I love you very much and I have every faith that you’ll get well soon.

Much love, Big Sis x

I’d like to think I took the clever route by writing her a letter that she had to read, thus avoiding the traditional route of making her sit down to a lecture she’d barely hear and quickly zone out of.

I’m happy to report that since she received said letter on Thursday, we’ve had mild success. She’s been reading through the Jacquline Wilson magazine and has asked that I help her set up a blog – a space where she will write book reviews and continue developing her literacy skills in a way and in a pace that works for her.

While this breakthrough has left me with a smile. I would be lying if I didn’t tell you that part of me is still a little saddened by the sight of this bigger mountain in front of us all.

My sister’s experience of literature is not an isolated one. I’ve worked in schools, colleges and universities, with members from as young as 3 to as old as 63, and this honour has given me a deep insight into this national (and evidently, international) struggle we’ve all had, regardless of academic ability.

The national curriculum succeeds in tainting the reading experience for so many of us. We soon affiliate reading with punishment – being forced to read books we don’t like because they do not engage us, with the pressure of being made to remember random facts and quotes for exams that do not reflect our propensity to understand the world, but instead, train us to become tin men and women ready for the 9(am)-5(pm) factory line.

There’s something magical in seeing a 9 year old sneak a book out of his desk and read it when his friends are having a chat, just because he’s so gripped by the story, and cannot wait to discover more! I love when I mark books and see a noticeable improvement in a student’s literacy skills, and when I ask them why, they tell me it’s because they’ve been reading this ‘sick’ book and are inspired by certain writing styles. My heart skips a beat when a child asks me what a word means and before I can answer, they say; “Don’t worry Miss, I’m gonna go and get the dictionary”. Or when a group of teen girls ask me to run a literacy after-school club, or when they tell their Mum’s that they’re enjoying said literacy club and Mum (aged 30 upwards) asks if I’d consider running something for adults because she’s just rekindled her love for reading ever since her daughter would ask to turn off the TV so they can have some quiet reading time at home! I love it when a university student finds their voice in a poetry club and is keen to spread this gospel with others, and of course, it’s a pleasure and a half to find my inbox flooded with requests for writing consultations because a potential writer (with no experience in literature) is certain that the story they have in mind, could be on the bookshelf next to a literary hero of theirs.

No matter how big she gets, my little sis will be this to me - cute princess with an innocent smile xx
No matter how big she gets, my little sis will be this to me – cute princess with an innocent smile xx

Sadly, while these cases exist, they do not happen often enough. But I’m hopeful, that through this blog, future Scribble Ink sessions and by you as the reader spreading the word, we can open more eyes, hearts and minds, to the magic in reading.

Yes, this letter was primarily for my sister, but as I’m typing this blog, I cannot help but wonder if it’s a message for the rest of the world to consider too?

Once my sister’s blog is up and running, I’ll be sure to let you know via a WOO-HOO-SHE’S-READING blog, which I’m sure you’ll all subscribe to 😉

Until next time…

Nadia x

P.s…if you’re keen to find out more about how I’ve stumbled into witnessing the magic of literature you’re more than welcome to learn more about what I do. Visit scribbleink.com for more information. Finally, please feel free to visit Rhyanne’s Go Fund Me page – we’re currently raising funds for her scoliosis treatment… http://www.gofundme.com/ciphag. Thank you x

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